Ken Leighton 1:30 p.m., Jan. 28
Morena 'Q with the pooches
Bay Park isn’t on everybody’s radar as a dining destination, but the neighborhood’s been growing up a little in the past couple of years. Bull’s Smokin’ BBQ, originally opened by quasi-celebrity chef Franki “the Bull” Terzoli, is one of places that’s changing the neighborhood’s character. I plan to work my way through the area’s staples and newcomers alike, but I’ll start with Bull’s because they have one big advantage. Dogs are welcomed, not just tolerated, on the patio. My roommate just got a little wiener dog and the learning curve of dog ownership has been steep. Having a go-to dog friendly place is cool. They gave the little sausage dog a bone nearly as big as he is to chew on and placed a bowl of water out for him. Plus, with the other dogs there, the under-socialized little goofball got a chance to mingle with the canine kind. For dog owners, this is a quite the boon. That big patio, bigger than the inside of the restau itself, also has a monstrous projector screen for watching the football or, this really happened, viral videos of cats and honey badgers and the like.
Bull’s barbecue style is very dry, by which I mean the meats don’t come with a lot of sauce. While some places put a good coat of sauce on ribs as they’re finished on the grill, Bull’s elects to let the smoked meat stay dry. In order to get a feel for the different meats on the menu, I tried the “round-up” ($21.95) with a beef rib, two pork ribs, four pieces of andouille sausage, two side dishes, and a piece of cornbread.
My preference is for pork ribs, but I can say that both varieties had the same merits. The minimal saucing of the meat allowed the smokiness to come through in a big way and the char that had been imparted to the edges of the meat was just right. The andouille sausage was plenty smoky, but unremarkable in the big scheme of things. Not to be cute, but size matters in terms of sausage and the petite hot links didn’t have magnitude on their side. Unassuming bread on the pulled pork sandwich ($8.95) housed delectable pork, halfway between the sodden porky that usually plays the part and crispy carnitas. In this, perhaps more than the ribs, I enjoyed the restrained use of sauce. The pork itself was deeply flavored and didn’t need to be drowned in sauce. Just a little splash of the sweet BBQ from the handy squeeze bottle was perfect.
Size was the biggest limiter for Bull’s. It’s a fine tradition of Southern eaters to indulge in large, satiating portions and I find that barbecue joints often serve modest amounts of food, perhaps expecting delicate, Californian sensibilities to be offended by large meal. The twenty-dollar platter was advertised as being big enough for 2 people, but even with an auxiliary sandwich it was a tough sell as a two-person meal. I don’t mind paying for a lot of food, especially when I sit down to grind some serious ‘Q, but I want to be sure I get plenty.
Side dishes were a strong suit. The crispy cole slaw had been laced with candied almonds and the baked beans, unfortunately served stone cold, were sweet and savory in all the right ways. Mac and cheese, which had received a Whisky-Tango topping of crushed Cheez-Its, was a gooey pot of Mornay held together with minimal noodles. Win. The cornbread was miniature but delicious. A root beer float (who needs plain soda or beer?) went the extra mile with cookies and cream ice cream, and lots of it, for a totally justified $3.95.
1127 West Morena Boulevard